Utterly Instagrammable t-shirts appeared on the Christian Dior runway for Spring/Summer 2017. They declared, “We Should All be Feminists.” More recently, the show space was plastered with protest and feminist-inspired imagery and models wore t-shirts that read, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?," a play on American art historian Linda Nochlin's a 1971 essay with the same title.
As the first-ever female creative director at Christian Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri routinely uses the runway to make a statement. In light of the state of the gender power structure in the fashion industry, it is difficult not to wonder if she is not only talking to her Dior customers but also nudging fashion’s reigning powers that be: The men behind fashion’s biggest brands. There is, after all, a stark lack of women at the helm of the industry’s most well-known brands, and also behind the scenes.
This is a particularly interesting phenomenon if we consider the breakdown of the market for luxury goods. In the 250-billion-euro space, 85 percent of personal luxury goods consumers are women, according to a 2015 Bain report. Euromonitor confirmed that luxury womenswear and accessories continued to outperform menswear in 2016. And as recently as October 2017, online marketing consultancy PMX Agency found that of Gen X consumers – those born between 1965 to 1984, who make up the biggest buyers of luxury goods – women were still significantly outspending men.
These figures are wildly disproportionate to the statistics that detail the supply side of the equation, where the industry’s most highly-ranking positions are by and large dominated by men.
The relatively recent appointments of Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, Natacha Ramsey-Levi at Chloe, and Maria Grazia Chiuri at Christian Dior – the latter being Dior’s first-ever female creative director in the Paris-based design house’s 71-year history – signal a degree of advancement. Such appointments serve – at least in theory – to challenge the status quo of male designers’ power at the helms of the crown jewel brands of luxury conglomerates’ portfolios.
(This is something we examined at length last spring, in asking: Have luxury conglomerates given a fair chance to female creatives in the upper-most echelon of the fashion industry?).
But what is going on behind-the-scenes? On the business side of the equation, the imbalance persists. Industry-wide, women only make up 25 percent of board-level positions in publicly traded fashion and luxury goods companies, as of 2015, per BoF. Initiatives aimed at increasing gender diversity are being imposed in some countries, including France, where a 2011 law requires that all companies listed on the CAC 40 – a benchmark French stock market index – must show that women account for at least 40 percent of their board membership.
In 2015, more than 74 percent of the LVMH workforce and 73 percent of graduate in-take was made up of women. Of those numbers, only 4 out of 17 accounted for executive or board level management positions. LVMH has made strides to address this disparity by way of EllesVMH, a diversity-centric initiative it launched in 2007 “at the initiative of Chantal Gaemperle, Group Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Synergies.”
Now, over 10 years later, LVMH’s 10-member Executive Committee includes one woman, Ms. Gaemperle, herself. Its 15-member Board of Directors boasts a total of 6 women.
In terms of non-creative roles at LVMH’s 16 individual fashion & leather goods brands, 4 women serve as CEOs: Séverine Merle, CEO of Celine; Sylvie Colin, CEO of Kenzo; Pascale Lepoivre CEO of Loewe; and Sophie Brocart, CEO of Nicolas Kirkwood. It is worth noting that Laudomia Pucci – a Pucci family member – is the chairwoman of Emilio Pucci, and at Louis Vuitton, Delphine Arnault – daughter of LVMH chairman, Bernard Arnault – serves as Director and Executive Vice President.
What about rival, Kering? The Paris-based conglomerate’s 14-member Executive Committee includes a total of 4 women: Saint Laurent CEO Francesa Bellettini, Chief Sustainability Officer Marie-Claire Daveau, SVP of Communications Valerie Duport, and SVP of Human Resources Beatrice Lazat.
On its 11-member Board of Directors there are 7 women: Laurence Boone, Sophie L’Hélias, Sapna Sood, Sophie Bouchillou, Patricia Barbizet, Daniela Riccardi, and Yseulys Costes.
Meanwhile, Richemont, which owns Chloe, Alaia, and Cartier, among other brands, has a 19-member Board of Directors with just 3 women: Keyu Jin, Vesna Nevistic, and Maria Ramos.
In terms of other luxury groups, the Prada Group, for instance, maintains two spots held by women on its Board of Directors: Miuccia Prada, who holds the title of CEO and Executive Director (titles she shares with husband Patrizio Bertelli), and Alessandra Cozzani, who serves as the group’s Chief Financial Officer and Executive Director.
Chanel, which is owned by billionaire brothers Alain and Gérard Wertheimer, was under the control of a female CEO, Maureen Chiquet, for nearly a decade, until she left the company in 2016.
As for Mayhoola for Investments – the group backed by Sheikh Tamim, al-Missned, the monarch and head of state of Qatar, which owns Valentino, Balmain, the global license for Missoni’s M Missoni line, and Pal Zileri, the Italian menswear brand – it is not entirely clear how many women (if any) are members of the board.
When it comes to the market's biggest e-commerce sites. Yoox Net-a-Porter – the e-commerce giant created by the merger of the female-founded Net-a-Porter and the Federico Marchetti-formed Yoox – has 3 women on its board, including Laura Zoni, Catherine Gérardin Vautrin, and Eva Chen. That is one more than rival FarFetch, which has 2 women at the table: Dana Evan and Natalie Massenet.
With the gender statistics in terms of top roles at the fashion industry’s most esteemed brands in mind, the future for even the most highly educated women is arguably not particularly promising if the reigning governance and power structures remain static. However, change may be under way.
For instance, there is the positive trend of women creative directors being appointed to helm the industry’s multi-billion dollar houses, such as Dior and Hermes; heritage brands like Chloé; and more recently established names, including Alexander McQueen. Similar efforts will ideally permeate the C-suite, especially given the institution of legally-enforceable policies by a number of European countries that acknowledge the importance and the urgency of this matter.
Finally (and most importantly), the messages that appear to be so popular on the runway will hopefully be put into practice because what good is a t-shirt without greater change happening alongside it?